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Some states resisting drive for .08 BAC.

AP--When Congress passed a law requiring states to adopt a lower 0.08 percent legal standard for drunken driving or lose millions in funding to fix highways, it seemed like a sure thing for advocates who had spent years pushing the change.

The toughest part of their fight had only just begun because some states have resisted what they consider blackmail by the federal government.

President Clinton signed the bill saying the new legal limit would save 500 lives a year. Opponents say the change would not curb drunken-driving deaths.

"It hasn't been an easy battle in any state," said John Moulden, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Commission Against Drunk Driving.

Ohio Senate President Richard Finan, a Republican from Cincinnati, continues to oppose a bill to lower Ohio's limit to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent that has been introduced several times in six years by Rep. Rex Damschroder, a Republican from Fremont. Finan is among those who consider the federal mandate blackmail. Also, the .08 limit targets "social drinkers," he said.

In October, when the mandate was passed, 19 states and' the District of Columbia had the 0.08 standard for drunkenness. Massachusetts' law considered a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent as evidence--but not proof -- of drunkenness. Since then, legislatures in 10 other states have approved 0.08 bills, but few have sailed through.

In most other states, 0.08 bills were introduced but have met much resistance from key lawmakers, such as in Ohio. Others were defeated in committees, such as in Minnesota, or they died when legislative sessions ended, such as in West Virginia.

Jeanne Mejeur, policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, said drunken-driving regulations have always been left up to the states so they resent the federal mandate.

"Most of the states that passed it did so with some trouble and other states aren't even close to passing it," Mejeur said.

States that don't set a 0.08 standard by Oct. 1, 2003, will lose 2 percent of federal money for filling potholes, fixing bridges and widening highways. The penalty increases 2 percent for each year of non-compliance, to a maximum of 8 percent. States also could receive millions of dollars in incentives if laws are enacted before the deadline.

Ohio could lose $30 million in 2004 and up to $65 million in 2007.

The Ohio Association of County Commissioners maintains the bill would put increased demands on jails and courts, costing counties $2.1 million a year, and the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association also opposes it.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving pushed for the federal mandate after being rebuffed by lawmakers and groups in several states for the past ten years, said Millie I. Webb, the group's national president.

"We have state lawmakers who listen only to the special interests and not the public interests," Webb said.

MADD cites cases such as that of Traci Jungkurth, 41, of Westerville, whose husband and 8-year-old son were killed in 1996 on a Tennessee highway while returning home from a Memorial Day gathering. The 22-year-old driver who hit the family's vehicle from behind had a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent. Tennessee's standard for drunken driving is 0.10.

"He was drunk enough to be impaired and kill my family, but he wasn't drunk enough to get a DUI charge," Jungkurth said.

The American Beverage Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based national association of restaurant operators, opposes the 0.08 limit, saying there's no evidence to support the argument of how many lives would be saved. "It's all political. It's the wrong approach to a very serious problem," said spokesman John Doyle.

Some state lawmakers haven't been deterred by the opposition.

Indiana Sen. Tom Wyss, a Republican from Fort Wayne, had tried for 11 years to get 0.08 legislation passed. The change was approved this year and takes effect in July. The federal mandate persuaded the state to lower the standard, Wyss said.

In Ohio, Damschroder said that if the bill isn't approved this year, lawmakers will try again in 2003, when Finan won't be in the Legislature because of term limits. "We're going to plug on and we've still got another year and a half to do this. Show's not over. This will save lives. That's the bottom line."
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Title Annotation:legal standard for drunken driving
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Jul 2, 2001
Words:723
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